Juneteenth 2020

Several years ago my husband and I had the amazing opportunity to travel in Norway. My mother’s family is Norwegian and I had been twice before, once as a small child when we visited my aunt’s family and again as an adult accompanying my beloved grandmother, Mor-Mor (mother’s mother), on her last trip to visit her sister.

The first leg of our journey took place aboard the Hurtigruten, the working mail boat that travels the west coast from Bergen to Kirkenes. Not a cruise as you might think of it, though we took excursions into some beautiful old cities and enjoyed spectacular views of landscapes that renewed my respect for these strong and hardy people.

We went in April because of the dramatic price break for off-peak travel. Most of the other passengers had come from Europe, many of them gregariously happy Germans.

Repeatedly, both on board and off, we heard devastating stories of the Nazis having bombed this cathedral, that city. I watched the German travelers for reactions and never noticed a cringe. Towards the end of the trip, I mustered the courage to gently ask them about it: How is it that you don’t seem bothered by the damage done by your country?

Education, they replied. Our history books tell the truth. We’ve worked hard to come to terms with what happened so that it will never happen again.

Oh.

Rather than being offended, they were glad I asked. In fact, they took the opportunity to school me: they knew how little truth our U.S. history books contain, how our leaders and educational system have glossed over so many atrocities committed by our country.

I wasn’t taught about Juneteenth, that it took close to two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation for slaves in Texas to be freed. I was taught that slavery was cruel but that it ended, and almost nothing about the lingering cruelty. What I was taught about the Civil Rights Era came almost entirely without context. Why were separate bathrooms and drinking fountains such an issue? For that matter, I live in California where generations of kids have been taught a romantic vision of the California Missions and not the truth of coerced religious conversion and forced labor of indigenous people.

I’m grateful to be learning the truth, hard as it is.

President Obama posted on Twitter today: Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory, or an acceptance of the way things are. It’s a celebration of progress. It’s an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible––and there is still so much work to do.

Change is possible… Yes, please.

I recently spent some time on the Poetry Foundation website reading works by BIPOC, including this one that seems appropriate for today:

Lift Every Voice and Sing
By James Weldon Johnson

A group of young men in Jacksonville, Florida, arranged to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday in 1900. My brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, and I decided to write a song to be sung at the exercises. I wrote the words and he wrote the music. Our New York publisher, Edward B. Marks, made mimeographed copies for us, and the song was taught to and sung by a chorus of five hundred colored school children.
Shortly afterwards my brother and I moved away from Jacksonville to New York, and the song passed out of our minds. But the school children of Jacksonville kept singing it; they went off to other schools and sang it; they became teachers and taught it to other children. Within twenty years it was being sung over the South and in some other parts of the country. Today the song, popularly known as the Negro National Hymn, is quite generally used.
The lines of this song repay me in an elation, almost of exquisite anguish, whenever I hear them sung by Negro children.

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.

To hear John Legend sing the Black National Anthem, click here.
For more on Juneteenth, click here.

Cover image by Wynn Pointaux from Pixabay

Reading: May 2020 pt2

I’ve been planning another reading post for weeks, but I couldn’t anticipate how an upside-down world would spin off its axis yet again. In light of George Floyd’s murder and the resulting protests, I’ve been pondering, praying, quiet, recognizing just how much I don’t know and that, while my voice is important and silence isn’t an option, my words are not the words we should be listening to.

Example: last week we watched The Lovebirds with Issa Rae and Kamail Nanjiani. Through comedic circumstances, they witness a murder. But they don’t go to the police.

I would call 911. I would expect the police to show up and listen carefully and respond effectively. I wondered out loud, “Why don’t they just go to the police?”

And then she says it, something like: “Police don’t believe people who look like us.”

Oh… Setting aside the obvious fact that this was a movie, isn’t getting the police involved still better than trying to solve the crime yourselves?

Maybe not. See George Floyd.

So I have renewed my commitment to listen. To learn. I began following several  Instagram accounts – @oshetamoore, @lisasharper, @austinchanning, all women because I am a woman – and I picked up a book from my shelf: The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is one of my all-time favorite life-changing books. It ought to be required reading for every American over the age of 15. Stevenson is the attorney who got Hinton off death row after he had served 30 years for murders he didn’t commit. So it’s high time I read Hinton’s story in his own words. Just Mercy was turned into an Oscar-nominated movie, but the book blows the movie away.

Another book that helped me understand the complicated relationship between POC and the police: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It’s also a movie, one I enjoyed after reading the book.

How are you listening to POC? What books or resources do you recommend?

Now, the other books I’ve read recently…

I'd Give AnythingI’d Give Anything by Marisa de los Santos

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have absolutely adored other books by this author, and this one wasn’t as good. People make mistakes, big and small, and we can forgive them and ourselves, move on and/or move forward. Life goes on. I liked it more at the end than I thought I would, but still not my fav of hers.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown (The Brown Sisters, #1)Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A sweet and scintillating story of two people overcoming their self-constructed walls, once meant to ensure self-preservation, in order to fall in love. Note: graphic sex scenes (not my usual fare, but fun in context…).

Daily Rituals: How Artists WorkDaily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Skimmed because Currey didn’t include sufficient information to tell the reader what his subjects had contributed to the world. Another problem: I couldn’t discern an organizational strategy. Subjects aren’t listed in chronological or alphabetical order.

As he admits in the intro, Currey should have titled this book “Daily Routines.” The biggest take away is that there is no one size fits all, but rather, each person creates their own habits. In the book’s final entry, writer Bernard Malamud sums it up: “There’s no one way–there’s too much drivel about this subject. You’re who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place–you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time–not steal it–and produce the fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you’re on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.”

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Charlie Bucket, #1)Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love! Of course I’ve seen both movies countless times (prefer the Gene Wilder version), but reading the book was so much fun I can’t believe it took me so long to get to it.

Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAINRadical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN by Tara Brach

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wish I could remember who to thank for directing me to this life-changing book! RAIN is hard, important work, learning to Recognize my feelings, Allow them to just be (rather than stuffing or numbing them), Investigate how they feel in my body, and Nurture my inner self. Let it RAIN!

Two images in particular have been helpful: the Golden Buddha disguised under the hardened clay/mud – we’re all golden underneath our coping mechanisms; and the lone snarling dog caught in the trap by the tree – when we recognize how others hurt, it enables compassion and helps us to understand/forgive.

As a life-long Christian, I feel like I received a crash-course in prayer that the Church never provided.

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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay